Many people associate Kenya with mass tourism in the famous reserves of the Masai Mara and Amboseli. Yet Kenya is a large country filled with a wealth of abundant wildlife and culture beyond these areas that many people don't know about. In these places, some people, like Greg du Toit, have spent a great deal of time unlocking the secrets of the wildlife and meeting the culture and in doing so, producing images that are unparalleled in their depth of the region.
This is a special safari that delves into the culture and wildlife of a region with a person who has spent an inordinate amount of time understanding and photographing it. Our group is confined to only 6 people travelling to the Southern Rift valley and the southern Masai Mara. In both places you will encounter very few tourists; which is exactly what we want to do on this safari. We want to show you a Kenyan safari that is like no other- never before has this type of safari been done. This is the opportunity to immerse yourself on a safari that takes you back in time but yet also gives you a rich, authentic cultural and wildlife experience with one of Africas pre-eminent photographers. If you are interested, please read further.
Most safaris start in heavy traffic in Nairobi but this one starts in Nairobi National Park. Not only do we totally avoid going into Nairobi but you will take your first photograph before we even get to our overnight location on the outskirts of town.
There is no doubt that Africa is a great, wild and enchanting continent but as with the rest of the planet, human population growth and explosion have seen the continent change drastically over the last few decades. As a professional wildlife photographer, I dedicate my life to searching for pockets of Africa which remain unchanged. These enchanting places offer a wild freedom and a rugged beauty that transport one back in time. If you want to experience the so called ‘lost’ Africa or as I prefer to put it, the ‘real Africa’, then this is the safari for you.
The first leg of this safari plays out in the south rift valley of Kenya. If you look on a map it is between the Masai Mara and Amboseli, but this is not a destination on the regular safari circuit. Therefore, if you are looking for something different, special and unique, and if you wanting to get off the beaten track, then this is the safari for you.
Most safaris offer you a mix of safari drives only, but this safari is very different in that there are a number of very special activities that have been specially prearranged. These include presentations from leading scientists, day drives and night drives, authentic cultural activities, all genres of photography, tracking free ranging lion etc. Please see the detailed itinerary below for a list of unique activities.
One of Africa’s major attractions lies in its diverse array of traditional cultures. The Maasai are one such famous culture and this safari plays out on their land. If you want to have a genuine cultural experience then this is the safari for you as you will be introduced to a traditional Maasai boma and family. You will join in with the daily boma activities such as herding cattle and milking goats. There are very few authentic cultural experiences left in Africa and this is one of them. You will get to experience the daily life and culture of one of the most traditional clans of the Maasai tribe left in Kenya.
Not only will you experience the Maasai culture first hand but this is also a highly educational safari. You will receive talks from researchers and scientists (both Maasai and westerners alike) that have been living in or with the community for many years, studying their ancient ways. No matter how well you think you know the Maasai your eyes will be opened as to just what an incredible culture they really are.
Africa has lost 40% of its lions over the last few decades and the south rift valley of Kenya is one of the last strongholds for free-ranging lion. It is also one of the only areas in Africa where lion numbers are on the increase, which is even more incredible considering that they are found on community land. Guy Western, currently busy with his PHD through Oxford University, heads the ‘Rebuilding The Pride’ project. Not only will you go out and do field research with his team but you will be given a fascinating talk explaining the incredible dynamics that have resulted in this being one of the last thriving lion populations on the continent.
The south rift valley of Kenya is possibly the most diverse geographic location on the African continent. From soda lakes, to freshwater wetlands, to rivers, to mountains, to grasslands, to savannahs - this area has it all and you will see it all.
Africa is famous for its rift valley lakes but very few people get to visit Lake Natron due to its remote and isolated location. It is the largest breeding ground in the world for lesser flamingos and they breed there because no one else goes there. On this safari you take in the incredible sight of Lake Natron and its associated spectacular rift valley scenery. For landscape photographers this is a dream come true.
After being met at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi you will enjoy your first safari drive as we do not head into or near town but we rather take a scenic drive to our out-of-town hotel though Nairobi National Park. This is the only national park in the world that borders a capital city and what better way to start a safari than by taking your first photographs before even getting to your hotel? Its a big five park so anything is possible! Our first night is spent at the delightful Emakoko (click here to see the hotel).
A short half an hour flight with an extra luggage seat booked, will see you landing on the floor of Africa’s greatest geographical feature; the Great Rift Valley. Kenya’s southern portion of the valley, known affectionately as the ‘south rift’, is where this leg of the safari plays out. It boasts spectacular scenery, with the western wall in this part being particularly high and clearly defined. Meandering its way along the dusty floor is the Ewaso Ngiro river which gives rise to the largest Sycamore Fig forests in East Africa. Our exclusive tented safari camp is situated on the banks of this river and in the shade of this sycamore forest. With only four tents, our camp is intimate and positioned perfectly for our list of very special and exciting activities. See the camp website here. Follow them on facebook here
Once you are settled into your new home, under the fig trees on the banks of the river, you will then head out for an introductory exploration of the floor of one of Kenya’s last true wildernesses. On this safari drive you will, possibly for the very first time in your life, see an abundance of wildlife existing in Africa as it always once did. In other words, this is not an official park or reserve but rather a community land where wild animals live alongside the Maasai tribesman. This is the ‘real Africa’, the way it once was and with no fences, restrictions or park rules. You will enjoy a sundowner on the grassy plains watching herds of plains game dwarfed by the spectacular ‘Out of Africa’ rift valley scenery. A scrumptious dinner and campfire will be followed by an introductory talk by Greg on the area, its people and its wildlife. Turning in for the night, you might here lions roar while sleeping in your tent and if you do, it will be the first time that you have heard ‘Livingstone Lions’ roar. This last sentence will make more sense once you have heard Greg’s talk.
Our day begins with an early 5am departure for Lake Natron. This is a soda lake in the truest sense of the word. Surrounded by extinct volcanoes, you might even glimpse Ol Doinyo Lengai to the south which is the last active volcano remaining in the eastern arm of the rift valley. Natron is like no place else and it has been heralded the most dynamic land-form on planet earth by NASA. It is a wild frontier, a harsh and inhospitable place that has a barren and rugged beauty that will leave a lasting impression on you. The vistas are large and this is true big sky country. The drive into and out of the Natron basin will offer you breathtaking rift valley scenery as we pass under the steep western escarpment of the rift valley. This is a frontier experience that will challenge even the widest of wide-angle lenses. We will take a packed breakfast and the morning will be spent busting out tripods and photographing, exploring and celebrating the wilderness of the south rift valley.
After lunch and tea back in camp, we head out to meet a traditional Maasai boma (village). We will spend the afternoon and evening with the Maasai. You will be introduced to a real Maasai boma. In other words, this is not a village for tourists but a real working boma! The most exciting and important time of day for the Maasai is when the warriors return at sunset, bringing the cattle safely home. Once the cows are in, the Maasai woman begin the important task of milking. This will be an authentic cultural experience and the Maasai we visit will not put on a show or a ‘sing and dance’ for us. What they will do is allow us into their world, to experience their everyday life. Samantha du Toit from SORALO has been working with this community for the last nine years and she will be at hand to help interpret and explain the culture. It is through the trust that she has earned from the local Maasai, and her caring work, that we have been extended this special invite and are allowed to take our photographs. These bomas are some of the most traditional left in Kenya and in this part of Africa the Maasai are still semi-nomadic. You will not only glimpse this ancient and wonderful culture but you will gain in-depth knowledge, firsthand experience and incredible mood-filled cultural portraits. Yes, photography is allowed.
Guy Western is currently busy with his PHD through Oxford University and he heads a fascinating and exciting project called ‘Rebuilding the Pride’. This unique project is studying both the Maasai and the free-ranging lion population of the south rift valley. As mentioned, the south rift of Kenya is one of the only places in Africa where the lion population is on the increase. This is especially remarkable when considering that Kenya only has 2000 lion left and even inside its national parks, lions are decreasing in number. The ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ project is trying to identify all the factors that come in to play in the south rift, which are making it such a conservation success story. Once these factors have been identified, ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ want to design a model that can hopefully be replicated elsewhere to help conserve both wildlife and people. This exciting lecture will open your eyes to the incredible conservation ethics of the Maasai. It will enlighten you regarding lion behaviour and you will gain unique insight into the dynamics of one of Africa’s most diverse, dynamic and unique ecosystems. This exciting talk will broaden your horizons and it will challenge your thoughts on the concepts of both wilderness and conservation. ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ is a one of a kind project that will give you unique and in-depth insight and on this evening, you will hear from the researchers themselves.
The conversation continues around the campfire after which the sounds of owls and lions will lull you to sleep.
This is an exciting day because we will join the ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ researchers in the field. Researchers get up even earlier than photographers so our day will begin long before sunrise. Of the approximated 50 lion in the area, only 4 have been collared with a GPS satellite tracking collar. In an area that is over 100 000ha (1000 sq-km), we will track down the lions of the south rift valley. These are no ordinary lions though, they are free-ranging lion, carrying out a free existence on Maasai community land. This is a part of Africa where man and beast still coexist, and on this morning, you will get to experience this firsthand. I am sure many of you have seen lots of lions before, but think about it, everywhere you have seen a lion is because man has been excluded out of the area as is the case in national parks and game reserves. This experience is very different in that the Maasai and the lions live side-by-side and on this morning, you will not only track the lion down but you will spend time with them, following them across the floor of Africa’s rift valley. Once we have located the lion, we will pass by Maasai villages and share our findings with them. You will not only see and photograph free-ranging lion but you will get to experience what it is like to be a field researcher in wild Africa. You will assist the ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ project and you will play a part in conserving this splendid and unique corner of Africa.
On this afternoon, we enjoy a safari drive along the floor of the rift valley to our final destination, the N’giro Swamps at the base of Mount Shompole. This mountain is an extinct volcano lying just to the north of Lake Natron, where it rises like moulten wax out of the floor of the rift valley. For those of you who enjoy landscape photography, you will be able to walk along the edge of this wonderful wetland seeking out your special composition with Mount Shompole in the background. The freshwater in the swamps also draws wildlife off the dry dusty plains in the afternoon and boasts a large number of bird species. This afternoon is special in that you will be able to climb out of the vehicle, shed your shoes and socks if you like, and walk along the edge of the wetland, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a true African wilderness. After enjoying a sundowner and watching the sun set behind the western wall of the Great Rift Valley, you will make your way north again and back to camp. The expansive breathtaking scenery will see you fall in love with Africa all over again.
After dinner, we continue to explore the floor of the rift valley seeking out its nocturnal denizens. The south rift has an incredible array of nocturnal creatures and since we are not inside a park or game reserve, we can go exploring. We will search for aardvark; aardwolf; civets; genets; hyena; white tailed mongoose; leopards; lion; owls; african wild cats and serval amongst others. The nocturnal fauna is the best kept secret of the south rift and we will unlock this secret for you. Sitting on the roof of a vehicle with nothing but wild Africa all around you and the starry heavens above, you will once again be touched by the awesomeness of true wilderness.
SORALO is the “South Rift Association of Land Owners”. This trust was formed to take care of all the land between the Masai Mara (to the west) and Amboseli (to the east). It is an incredibly diverse area and SORALO is a community driven initiative that aims at directly improving the livelihoods of the communities, creating linkages and assisting in resource mobilization for the development of the south rift valley region, all the while taking into consideration the key threats and challenges in the area. On our last night we will be hosted by the founding member of SORALO, Samantha du Toit. Sam, a Kenyan by birth, moved into the area in 2007 and her gentle, patient and caring relationship with the Maasai is what makes this such an incredibly successful conservation initiative. We will hear a bit more from Sam about the SORALO projects being initiated and we will enjoy a traditional Swahili dinner consisting of yummy free-range Maasai goat. The evening will end around the fire hearing more from the Maasai. By the end of this evening, we believe that your eye’s would have been opened to an entirely new form of conservation and that your definition of the wilderness concept will be forever changed. ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ which is one of the SORALO projects is a good news story that will leave you filled with passion and renewed hope for the African continent.
Again, before dawn, we will be out on the dusty floor of Africa’s rift valley where we will track down our lions from yesterday to see what they have been up to. Accompanied by the ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ team of researchers, we will join them on their daily field research. This safari affords you the special opportunity of getting to terms with one of the most fluid and dynamic ecosystems left in Africa. The rainfall, rivers and swamps all affect grazing for the cows and wildlife of the area. Why do the lions not destroy the cattle and in turn why does the growing population of Maasai not destroy the lions? What makes this ecosystem tick and what challenges lie ahead? What better way to answer these questions than by getting out and into the ecosystem, by spending time with both the Maasai and the lion. On this morning, you are not on a normal safari drive; you are on an exploration back in time to study an ancient relationship between two apex predators, both of which are at the top of the food chain and sharing the same resources. How do the Maasai, with their cattle and goats, coexist in the same area as Africa’s top big cat? These questions and many more will be answered.
The south rift valley is a truly wild piece of Africa. It is hot, dry and dusty, dotted with Acacias and the wall of the rift valley is an ever-present backdrop. The Maasai not only live in this wild rugged countryside but they subsist here without growing crops and living among Africa’s wild beasts. The Maasai herdsman are therefore shepherds of biblical proportions. Each day they have the huge responsibility of taking their family’s cattle out grazing and to be watered. Armed physically with only spears, they are responsible for their family’s wealth. Lions are on the prowl and the herdsman are on the watch. This afternoon, we join the Maasai herdsman and we help them ferry their cattle back to their bomas at dusk. Walking behind a herd of Maasai cows, listening to their bells and watching the dust that they kick up, you will experience Africa the way the Maasai do. Our herdsman will have their spears close at hand but this afternoon, you will come to realize that their true weapon is the knowledge of not only their land but the wisdom that has been passed down to them by their forefathers. You will gain firsthand experience as to just what incredible pastoralists the Maasai really are. Walking on the dusty floor of this ancient land, you will feel truly alive!
After a hearty breakfast, you bid farewell to the Great Rift Valley and take a very scenic 30 minute flight over the wall of the rift valley. Your destination is arguably the greatest wildlife destination on the plant, the famed Masai Mara Game Reserve. We have chosen a very special location for this leg of the safari as your camp (click here to see more of the camp) is hidden inside a secret forest on the banks of the Sand River. You will be situated deep inside the reserve where you can enjoy spectacular wildlife viewing without hordes of tourists. Very strategically, your camp has been chosen to allow access to both sides of the Mara River and for photographers this is especially important as it means that you stand a much better chance of having the wildebeest crossing towards you.
Once you are settled into camp, the afternoon safari drive will continue in open style safari trucks with plenty of space. We will explore seldom visited parts of the reserve and you will experience the Masai Mara like few people do. Exceptional wildlife viewing is the order of the day here! We return to the campfire and Sala’s offers the finest traditional Kenyan safari experience, with each dinner being a celebration of the day’s sightings. Being on safari at Sala’s is indeed a celebration of life. Turning in, you will be lulled asleep to the sounds of Africa and to the promise of some of the best wildlife viewing on offer anywhere in the world, to follow over the next few days.
Your day will begin just as the first birds stir but the sun is not yet up. Tea or coffee will be delivered to your tent and as you wake up, so does the beautiful riverine bush adjacent to your tent. Leaving camp at sunrise you will head onto the great plains of East Africa. Sala’s camp has been specially selected to offer you an absolute smorgasbord of wildlife sightings. The Masai Mara is famous for its cheetah and the central plains just to the north of camp offer some of the finest cheetah viewing in Africa. The cheetah hunt daily on these plains.
Your safari truck has its own kitchen so not only can you explore to your heart’s content, as you do not need to return to camp for breakfast, but you will enjoy a yummy egg breakfast on the great plains or on the banks of the Mara River. The annual wildebeest migration has been dubbed ‘the greatest wildlife show on earth’ and the time of year for this safari has been carefully selected to coincide with the time that the wildebeest are arriving at the Mara River and when the crocodiles are hungry. Being able to access both sides of the river increases the chances of having the wildebeests crossing towards you and it also means that you will get to see and experience the best of the Masai Mara. From the large central plains all the way to the beautiful Sirian escarpment, with its vast ‘Acacia-dotted’ plains below, you will see it all. You will journey to the far south where the Masai Mara meets the Serengeti and you will see not just the incredible migration and associated predator action, but you will enjoy all of Africa’s wonderful and bizarre creatures. Zebra, giraffe, gazelles, warthog, elephants, mongooses, hippotamus etc. are simply the order of the day.
After a full morning drive, once the light has burnt off and the heat is building, you will return to camp for a yummy light lunch. Sala’s Camp is situated in a beautiful cool forest and the birdlife in camp is wonderful. After your safari siesta, the afternoon safari drive commences and once again Sala’s offers something special, with an afternoon drive along the meandering Sand River. This remote part of the park sees few visitors and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It offers prime leopard habitat and the surrounding hills are home to resident black rhino. With the every real chance of seeing the Big 5, this remote corner of the reserve is one of the last places in Africa where free-ranging black rhino occur. Serval are also present in this part of the reserve.
Meandering back to camp just as it gets dark, the campfire will beckon you in. A sundowner and candlelit dinner will be the perfect end to your incredible safari day. After dinner you can retire to the fire and enjoy the starry night or your Maasai watchman can escort you back to your tent, where the sounds of Africa send you to dreamland with the promise of another safari day to follow.
A winding safari drive on your last morning will see you ending at the airstrip, where a 1 hour flight will take you back to Nairobi for your onward travels home, with transfers already prearranged. Arriving back home and processing your photographs, you will relive the incredible experience. You will cherish that not only did you experience the true wildlife mecca of Africa and the ‘greatest wildlife show on earth’ whilst in the Masai Mara, but you also experienced ‘real Africa’ when in the rift valley, which very few people get to do.
The Emakoko is uniquely positioned on the side of a valley overlooking the Nairobi National Park with the Mbagathi River running directly below. Accessible a mere 45 minutes from either airport, the drive through the park itself, with its’ beautiful scenery and abundance of plains game is a spectacular way to start any East African safari.
The National Park, despite its extraordinary proximity to the capital city of Kenya, boasts a spectacular assortment of birds and wildlife, with over 400 species of bird recorded in one day. With an excellent possibility of spotting four of the Big Five, many Nairobi residents find the park and the lodge a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of city life.
With only 10 rooms The Emakoko offers an exclusive and personal environment for our guests to enjoy. With five rooms art the main level and five built into the cliff face higher up. The climb to the upper rooms is not an easy one but the views from the top five rooms justify the effort, as they are quite spectacular.
They have been careful with our room designs and interiors to make sure that everything is comfortable from, the huge, luxurious beds to the black-out curtains. Each room has its own private veranda.
With only four tents, the camp is intimate and nestled into the shade of the giant fig trees, overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River. The rooms are all very private with plenty of space between them. The tents all have bucket showers and en-suite flushing toilets. We have recently become aware of the term ‘glamping’, which is a term to describe glamorous camping, and that is indeed what we provide.
Lighting in the tents is all solar and there are no electrical sockets. The tents are located on the bend of the river each with a beautiful view looking up river. As you look across the river there are a lot of birds and animals that come down to drink from the waters edge.
The camp is hidden deep inside a secret forest on the banks of the Sand River. You will be situated deep in the reserve where you can enjoy spectacular wildlife viewing without hordes of tourists. Very strategically, your camp has been chosen to allow access to both sides of the Mara River and for photographers this is important; it means you can get the wildebeest crossing towards you.
Sala’s Camp is a tented camp that combines tradition with comfort and it’s a model of understated, intimate luxury. Situated in the southern, wilder corner of Kenya’s mighty Maasai Mara game reserve close to the confluence of the Sand and Keekerok Rivers – an idyllic geographical feature that attracts teeming wildlife.
With just seven tented rooms, Sala’s Camp first hosted guests in 2004, and it has become justly renowned for combining an authentic safari experience with friendliness, hospitality and fine dining. Typically, after a day’s excursion, you’ll return to meet up for sundowners by the campfire before enjoying dinner with your companions on a long dining table beneath the stars.
30% deposit confirms your booking
Maximum of 6 clients and a minimum of 4 clients for this safari.
Road transfer to Nairobi national park.
Flight transfer to Shompole Wilderness safari.
Flight transfer to the Masai Mara.
Flight transfer to Nairobi international airport.
"This safari my first was simply put, both amazing and breathtaking and overwhelming! I was going for only one word so going to stop before I use all the emphatic English words I know - Doing such a voyage with Greg insured that I got the most of the journey, more than once he rescued me from a camera that did not want to cooperate, or was it my clumsiness in an exciting moment - But, more importantly, I believe I have a better grasp of the photographic process as a whole, a better understanding of what is entailed in taking a photograph. Coming home, I feel a renewed excitement for the stills medium! Finally, thank you to Shem and Minette and everybody at C4 for making all the preparation so easy, nothing complicated and you always had all the answers -"Nancy Nadeau